Chicago aldermen: Who's going to get all those water infrastructure jobs?

October 22, 2011

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Chicago aldermen aren't raising much of a stink over Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to boost water fees to pay for new water and sewer lines. But they are concerned over who'll get those construction jobs.

Ald. Ariel Reboyras said at a city council budget hearing Friday that initially he was skeptical, but now understands the need for a water fee hike. The he asked water commissioner Tom Powers who would be doing the $4.3 billion in work - city crews or outside contractors?

"It won't be outsourced, is what I'm saying," Reboyras asked. "Some of it I can understand."

"Yeah, some of it will be [outsourced] and some of it won't be," Powers replied. "It'll be a blend, just like we have now."

Ald. Scott Waguespack told Powers he hopes that blend includes more city workers than outsiders, especially in a time of high unemployment.

"It sounds like it's such a massive project that there are really people in the city that could get those jobs," Waguespack said.

Most city council resistance to Mayor Emanuel's big water proposal has to do with non-profits and churches. Right now most don't have to pay for their water, but if the mayor gets his way, they soon will.

Several influential aldermen, including Finance Committee Chair Ed Burke, have spoken out against that proposal.

The Archdiocese of Chicago estimated the fee change could cost its schools and parishes $1.5 million extra per year. Chancellor Jim Lago said the archdiocese is "seriously concerned," given that many city parishes already operate on budgets that are "running on the margin."